At the beginning of the new year, 19 different states around the country hiked their minimum wages.
But Pennsylvania wasn't one of them.
In the Keystone State, the minimum wage remains stubbornly set at just $7.25, lower that all neighboring states.
But Gov. Tom Wolf hopes to change that, declaring as he embarks on his second and final term in Harrisburg that he wants to raise wages statewide to a mandatory minimum of $15 an hour by 2025 – starting with a hike to $12 an hour as of July 1, 2019.
"Our minimum wage hasn’t changed in a decade and too many hardworking people are struggling to get by,” Gov. Wolf said in announcing the plan last week. “Raising the minimum wage lets people afford the basics, like food, rent and transportation. It also lets people work their way off of public assistance rather than having taxpayers subsidizing employers that are paying poverty wages. One fair wage saves tax dollars, grows the middle class and creates new customers for businesses, which benefits all of us.”
An estimated 2.1 million workers in Pennsylvania – 37 percent of the workforce –would get a raise from Wolf's proposal, which will be introduced to the state legislature by Philly State Senator Christine M. Tartaglione and Pa. state rep. Patty Kim.
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"Raising the minimum wage is long overdue. I know this because I sponsored Pennsylvania’s last successful Minimum Wage legislation in 2006,” Sen. Tartaglione said in a statement announcing her support. “At the time, all the naysayers warned us that we would force Pennsylvania companies out of business and drive away countless jobs. These doomsday predictions never came to pass."
Tartaglione estimated in five years, a higher wage would give workers another $9.1 billion they could invest in the community.
Pennsylvania's $7.25 minimum wage is the lowest in the region, compared to the states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has signed legislation to increase the minimum wage for all city employees, which will rise from $12.20 to $13.25 in July, making incremental steps to reach $15 an hour in 2022. Kenney told the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 31 that businesses should begin paying higher wages and also support Wolf's proposal.
"For those of you who are concerned about the economic impact of a minimum wage increase, evidence arising from the explosion of minimum wage raises in other jurisdictions shows it does not lead to a loss in low-wage jobs," Kenney said. "In fact, the states surrounding Pennsylvania have realized both real wage and employment growth in food services — an industry impacted by low-wage work."
Wolf has estimated by moving people off public assistance, a higher minimum wage could actually save taxpayers $155 million in two years, by helping 68,000 people move off state-funded Medicaid.